In the past 30 years, kayakers have explored every major tributary of the Amazon except one: Peru's Huallaga. The 300-mile canyon through the Andes had rebuffed two expeditions with its Class V whitewater, three unscoutable gorge sections, and rumors of a 150-foot waterfall. Last September, Telluride, Colorado–based Matt Wilson, at 33 an unsung veteran of the New Riders of the Perfect Wave film crew, which spawned kayaking greats like Seth Warren, Ben Selznick, and Nick Turner, gathered a group of five unsponsored paddlers from across the West and dubbed them Team Beer. They waited until the Huallaga was at its lowest flow and set off into the 7,000-foot-deep canyon with their kayaks, holding 12 days' worth of food, 200 feet of climbing rope, and one sat phone. The crux came on the second day, when the Huallaga crashed though a Class V rapid and entered an unknown gorge. If the river turned unrunnable, they'd have no way to escape.
"The hardest part was committing," says Wilson. The box canyon below was barely more than ten feet wide, but it was clean and easily navigable. The following two gorges were the same—a Class V entrance into a beautiful, sheer-walled Class II gorge.
Much to Team Beer's relief, the 150-foot waterfall never materialized. But on their third and final day, Wilson saw workers drilling high on the canyon wall: blast holes for the Chaglla Dam. It's scheduled to drown the river by 2016.
"The Huallaga would have been Peru's next classic," says Wilson.